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Garden Planters Diy Raised Beds

How to build raised beds and bring new life to your vegetable garden


How to build raised beds and bring new life to your vegetable garden

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Marcia Westcott Peck

DENNIS:

Loyal readers of this column — and I thank you both — know that we’ve written about pot before.

Pots and potted plants, that is.

And we’ve written about grass.

How to mow it, of course.

Well this time, we’re a little more Cheech & Chong than Chip & Joanna, and I have to admit, we never saw it coming.

What started as — and finished as, for that matter — a project to build a raised vegetable garden out back took a decidedly unexpected turn.

But first, the project.

Our daughter Madeline, majoring in architecture at Portland State, decided she wanted to bring new life to the vegetable garden she’s cared for the last several years with her daughter Noelle, so she drew up a plan to put in raised beds.

Marcia got involved as well, mostly on the how-to/engineering aspects, and the four of us (Noelle gets right in there for a 6-year-old) worked together to build raised beds that add a lot to our back garden.

And which also required close to a unit of soil to fill, which is where things get really interesting, man.

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Neighbors Mark and Nick LaPLante and Dennis at work. Photo by Marcia Westcott Peck

The soil for this, to do it right, was pivotal to the success of the beds, so Marcia contacted one of the contractors she uses in her landscape design business and he offered some high-quality, not-quite-new soil (used for only one season) for a great discount. And he’d even deliver it, too, a huge plus and a wonderful thing for him to do.

As for what had been grown in the soil, you get two hints:

1. Good Neighbor Al stopped by just after it was delivered, inhaled deeply and said, “Man, your soil smells great.”

2. Cheech & Chong would have been really impressed.

And so far, our vegetables have been too, nearly doubling in size in just two weeks.

I can just see the harvest now: Acapulco Gold potatoes, Maui Waui onions, electric lettuce ….

Yes, the soil had been used to grow — completely legally — the devil’s weed, which became quite apparent as we sorted out the old root balls in it.

What I’m wondering now is, when we go to eat these vegetables, will they bring on an entirely different case of the munchies? You know, “This zucchini is incredible, man, where can I score some more?”

Which, let’s face it, would be the first time in history anyone said that (Marcia: But, very Portland).

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Marcia Westcott Peck

MARCIA:

Fo shizzle (Dennis: Uh-oh, she’s channeling Snoop Dogg)!

Strangely, I have a craving to watch a Cheech & Chong marathon and “This Old House” all at the same time.

How did this column become about pot instead of raised veggie beds?

Are you kidding! Opportunity knocked!

When my wonderful contractor reminded me that the soil was previously used to grow marijuana, Dennis and I just looked at each other and both said at the same time, “Oh, we’ve got to get that into our column.”

If you are a regular reader, you honestly don’t think we could have a unit of primo pot soil in our raised veggie beds and not write something about it.

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Marcia Westcott Peck

Flashback: I have had a vegetable garden ever since I can remember.

As a child, my parents had one, when Dennis and I got married I talked our landlord into letting me remove the back lawn to grow veggies, and we’ve had one for the last 35 years in our own garden.

This is our first raised bed, though, and it makes such a huge difference.

Our veggies have only been in for three weeks and the zucchini is already growing like weeds.

Madeline and I also built a trellis/screen on the side of the bed so that we can grow cukes vertically.

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Marcia Westcott Peck

I placed a 1-inch irrigation pipe in the bed before we filled it with soil (Dennis: A huge shout-out to Good Neighbor Mark and his son Nick, without whom I’d still be moving the soil from the driveway to the beds) so that I can feed drip line into the bed at a later date.

We also bought four large ceramic pots to place outside of the beds and planted them with blueberries and raspberries.

And we covered the ground with several inches of 1/2-inch crushed rock so that we don’t have to walk through mud.

Since veggie gardens should be beautiful, too, we added stone mosaics in the rock path, a hanging glass art piece sandwiched between antique tin ceiling tiles from an old downtown hotel to the screen and a large flower pot smack in the middle to anchor the whole thing.

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Marcia Westcott Peck

And in case you thought you were tripping, we did write a column several years ago about our plan/design to build a vegetable garden but never implemented it because we ended up putting in a playhouse for the grandchildren instead.

This new design is smaller, which accommodates both the playhouse and the veggie beds.

And in another related column, years ago we wrote about our dear little wiener dog Roxanne, who was prescribed medical marijuana for end-of-life issues. And even though we don’t indulge, I think her nickname of Snoop Dog was pretty appropriate!

This project may also explain my new guilty pleasure, watching “Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party.”

Fo shizzle.

TIPS FOR PLANNING AND BUILDING RAISED BEDS

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Marcia Westcott Peck

1. How big do you want your beds? How many plants and what kinds? How big will each plant get and how much room will it need?

2. Does the area get enough sun?

3. Can you grow some veggies and fruit vertically as well as horizontally? If so, add a screen to the design.

4. Draw up a scale design on grid paper.

5. I prefer 18- to 20-inch tall beds. You won’t have to bend over much to tend the garden and you can use the edge as a seat by capping the top of the bed edge with a 2×6 to sit on. Most beds can be 4 feet deep if you have access from both sides. If you have access from only one side, 3 feet is best so that you can reach all the way across.

6. For wood beds, untreated cedar or juniper make great choices. The cedar can be rough cut (which is cheaper) or milled. Juniper is a very long-lasting, eco-friendly wood and is comparable in price to milled cedar (Sustainable Woods NW, snwwood.com)

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Marcia Westcott Peck

7. When you design a bed, try to build it with pre-cut wood lengths in mind. For instance, most wood comes in 8-foot, 10-foot, 12-foot and 16-foot lengths. If you use rough cut 2×10 cedar and build a 4-foot deep x 10-foot long x 20-inches tall bed, you will have no waste.

8. Level your grade as much as possible.

9. Stake the bed, making sure each corner is 90 degrees.

10. We dug an 18-inch deep hole at each corner and then set our 4×4 posts in each hole. Add about 4-6 inches of crushed rock in the bottom of each post hole for drainage. Level each post and backfill holes with 1/2-inch minus crushed rock, tamping the rock to compact it as you go.

11. For long beds, add a 4×4 post every 4 to 6 feet for extra support.

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Marcia Westcott Peck

12. We cut our 4×4 posts long because we wanted to add a 2×6 bench top to the rim of the raised beds. We also had grade changes and so needed the extra length.

13. Attach the bottom boards first, making sure they are level. Then add the upper boards as needed.

14. We used rough cut 2×10 cedar and needed two courses to get the 20-inch height we wanted.

15. After we attached our top horizontal boards, we cut the tops of the 4×4 posts even with the top of each board, using a reciprocating saw. Make sure the blade is sharp and has small teeth.

16. Stub up a 1-inch irrigation pipe on the inside of the raised bed with an elbow at the bottom that runs to the outside so that you can feed drip line through it for irrigation.

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Marcia Westcott Peck

17. You can place a layer of landscape fabric on the bottom to keep new soil separated from the native soil. You can also place chicken wire on the bottom to keep the moles out.

18. We used a high-quality, soil-less blend from one of my contractors. It’s Pro-Gro’s veggie mix, made especially for raised beds (pro-gromixes.com)

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Marcia Westcott Peck

19. We were lucky enough to have our wonderful neighbors, Nick and his dad Mark, pitch in and help us move the soil and fill the raised bed in no time. I watered it as they filled it to help saturate the deeper layers.

20. Our daughter Madeline and I built a screen so that we could grow veggies vertically. We figured cukes, gourds and the like could be tied and grown up it. The screen is free standing and not attached to the raised beds. We dug 2-foot deep footings and set the posts in concrete.

21. We also added a 2×6 cedar bench top along the inside rim of our horseshoe-shaped bed to sit on. We set it on top of, and attached it to, the 4×4 posts and top edge of the raised beds.

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Marcia Westcott Peck

MORE FROM THE PECKS

Marcia Westcott Peck is a landscape designer (mwplandscape.com or find her on Instagram at @pecklandscape), and Dennis Peck is a senior editor at The Oregonian/OregonLive.

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The project bed takes an unexpected turn when the not-quite-new soil arrives. Cheech & Chong would have been impressed.

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